March 15, 2016: Computer Science MS students win USAA award at SpartaHack

Computer Science MS students Manuel Tanzi, Ettore Randazzo, and Umberto di Fabrizio with the USAA quadcopters award won at SpartaHack for the MyEyes application (Photo credit: Umberto di Fabrizio)

SpartaHack is where our 'spartans' Ettore Randazzo, Manuel Tanzi, and Umberto di Fabrizio fought in a battle of coding and creativity with no time to rest or sleep, for 36 hours straight, returning victorious to home.

SpartaHack, one of the biggest Hackatons in the US, attracts more than 500 hackers from every part of the US and the world, to meet at the State University of Michigan and make their ideas become reality. Many top companies, like Amazon, Microsoft, USAA and Google, in search of young talents, choose to invest their money to make this incredible event possible.

It was the trio's first hackaton, but the skills developed during years of hard work and studying, have allowed them to compete with veteran hackers in an arena of more than 100 teams and to get one of the sponsor's prizes.

Every company was allowed to select one team as their winner and the idea of our hackers attracted the attention of the USAA committee, which was looking for a tech solution to improve the life of veterans. USAA awarded the team the 'Go Above for those who have Gone Beyond' award and to give each member of the team a quadcopter.

The application that won this award was MyEyes, which is the mobile app for android devices developed by the three students during a 36 hours coding session on a 'redbull engine'. MyEyes allows people to select images from their own gallery and hear a detailed description of the picture. It can tell the objects in a given direction (left, right, center), look for the position of a specific one (glass, lion, table), and share your favorite pictures on social media! Everything completely voice controlled.

"Looking at pictures is very nostalgic for the majority of people, but not for all. Blind people are inherently unable to experience such emotions through sight. " Randazzo said, "We took inspiration from this plain fact and came up with the idea that memories can be triggered by auditory inputs. Our mission is to tell blind people their stories, through their pictures and our voice."

"Technically speaking, it has been challenging" says Tanzi "we integrated several services to create our system. The picture is sent to a Dropbox folder where Alexa picks it up and sends to the Clarifai API. Clarifai tags the picture and the tags are aggregated into a meaningful sentence by our AWS Lambda Function, finally the sentence is spoken by Alexa through the Echo ."

"It was a completely new experience for each of us, the atmosphere was amazing: there were tech talks at all hours of the day and night, workshops, rock and jazz concerts." Di Fabrizio said. "The university was populated by teams of 'hackers' spanning 3 floors. It was fascinating to see all those clever people, in one place, giving life to some really creative ideas".

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